Juventus took a small step towards the last four of the Europa League as Federico Gatti’s goal in the second half secured the hosts a 1-0 victory over Portuguese side Sporting in the first leg of their quarter-final on Thursday.
Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri changed the formation that lost 2-1 to Lazio in Serie A on Saturday to a more attacking one with three forwards, but with limited success as their chances were few and far between.
The first chance fell to Federico Chiesa who fired an angled shot from inside the box that Sporting goalkeeper Antonio Adan parried away.
Sporting dominated much of the match and had chances to score in the first half. Captain Sebastian Coates had a shot saved by Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny before Gleison Bremer cleared a Nuno Santos effort off the line a few minutes later.
Juve’s injury woes were further exacerbated by the replacement of Szczesny shortly before the break. The Poland international seemed unwell and held his chest before walking off and being replaced by Mattia Perin.
The club said after the match that Szczesny had not suffered any serious problems, with the player himself talking down the health scare.
“I am fine, I was a little anxious, but we did all the tests and everything is fine,” Szczesny told Sky Sport Italia.
“I was scared, it had never happened to me before, I was struggling to breathe and it really worried me.”
Substitute Dusan Vlahovic helped turned things around for the hosts after 73 minutes with a header that was blocked on the line by Coates, with Gatti bundling the rebound in from close range.
Juve midfielder Paul Pogba made his first appearance outside of Serie A this season when he came on late in the second half to replace Angel Di Maria.
Perin became the hero of the night after a superb double save in stoppage time, first stopping a tap-in before parrying the rebound away from danger.
The result continued Sporting’s winless run in Italy. Four of their 16 games in the country have resulted in draws, while 12 have ended in defeat.
The second leg is next Thursday at Estadio Jose Alvalade in Lisbon. The winner will face either Sevilla or Manchester United in the semi-final.